O’ God! Are you the one still looking for it? Searching literature that acts as a mirror of society? Ha! Let’s get it straight! That’s a notion propagated by those who cling to the romanticised idea that literature holds some kind of profound insight into the human condition. As someone with a deep and prolonged investment in English literature, I can assure you that literature’s validity as a reflection of society in modern times is highly dubious, if not entirely irrelevant. In this article, I will critically examine this claim floated by professors in their classes and critics in their subjective evaluation of literature for ages. Let’s dive into the depths already.
First and foremost, let’s address the notion that literature accurately mirrors society. Even the mirror we use for household usage reflects only what we want to witness. Isn’t it? Think carefully. If we want to ignore a mole on the cheek, it does that. Doesn’t it? Then, how can we expect an artistic expression in very subjective words to mirror something as vast as our society correctly? Literature, often created by a select few individuals who have their own biases, agendas, and perspectives, is nothing more than a distorted, subjective lens through which the author chooses to interpret the world. How can we expect such a limited perspective to accurately reflect the complexities and diversity of society? It would be like looking at the world through a cracked mirror and expecting a clear reflection. Forget it! It won’t ever work! Be it the romanticised English nation and her ventures into private lives of the world when the Kings and Queens were busy ruining the worlds of others in some third world or African countries or the American glory and its lofty ideals when politicians were bombing some Hiroshima… literature has its well-defined limitations and we cannot ignore the same.
Moreover, in the modern period, literature is increasingly becoming an isolated bubble, detached from the realities of the modern world. In an age dominated by technology, social media, and rapid globalisation, the issues and concerns explored in literature often feel outdated and out of touch. Read some poetry or some novels by those who are critically acclaimed and recognised. You will feel the same. It may be because ideal literature tends to dwell on the past, rehashing tired tropes and regurgitating the same old themes. What relevance does a 19th-century novel about the plight of an aristocratic family hold for a society grappling with issues like climate change, income inequality, and geopolitical conflicts? None, I dare say. At the same time, I am no more interested in the adventures of a Knight who may be killing many birds with one fart or many dragons with the sway of his huge … arrow. I don’t care!
Today, literature has become a mere source. A source like virtual reality or social media or even LSD… however, is not equally enjoyable or capable. Beyond doubt, the primary purpose of literature in the modern world is entertainment. People turn to literature to escape the mundanity of their lives, and to seek temporary respite from the harsh realities they face. They want to be entertained, not burdened with profound insights or heavy-handed moralising. In an era of streaming services, video games, and endless distractions, literature struggles to compete for attention. It simply cannot fulfil the role of mirroring society when it is often dismissed as a relic of the past, relegated to niche bookshelves or academic discussions. Am I wrong? Prove me wrong and I will be happy beyond measure. As an ardent admirer of literature, I am pained beyond words to express how I feel when I witness the young generation spending time on Netflix and Amazon Prime videos instead of reading quality literature. However, I will also state that the ‘quality’ of quality literature sucks… it has become the mouthpiece of people with agenda and propaganda. Why will a young person ruin his or her (or any of the 497 of that) precious leisure in deciphering literature as if Misha Collins decoding the tablet for Sam and Dean?
If we are to discuss literature’s supposed relevance, we cannot ignore the countless examples of literature’s failure to capture the complexities of society. Take, for instance, the ever-popular genre of romance novels. These books present a highly idealised, escapist vision of relationships, often reducing complex individuals to mere archetypes. They perpetuate unrealistic expectations and offer little insight into the real struggles faced by individuals in navigating love and companionship. Can we really consider this a valid reflection of society? Certainly not! At the same time, even the works of English literature or literature in any other language claiming to offer ‘realism’, fail to capture the REAL issues universally acknowledged. Their reality, like their literature, is subjective and very dense to accommodate enough expectations. Alas! Literature!
And I am totally against the ritual that we have to celebrate certain works of literature by those who are no more… those who are still revered by the critics and scholars of literature… those who supposedly capture human emotions timeless enough to be relevant for all the aeons of time. NO! Even acclaimed literary works are not exempt from criticism. Consider the works of famous authors like F. Scott Fitzgerald or Jane Austen. While undoubtedly skilled writers, their works often focus on the privileged few, depicting a narrow segment of society and ignoring the voices and experiences of marginalised groups. Literature’s limited scope and failure to represent the true diversity of society render it an inadequate mirror.
In conclusion, the validity of literature as a mirror of society in modern times is highly questionable. Its subjective nature, detachment from contemporary issues, and primary focus on entertainment undermine any claims of relevance or insight. While literature may have its merits as a form of art and entertainment, we must discard the notion that it holds any significant bearing on the realities of our complex, rapidly changing world. So, are you picking up any books or doing something else today? haha!